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Lifelong educator and author honored in Jackson County with special day

By Kristin Fox

After unanimous decisions at this week’s meetings of the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners and the Town of Sylva Board of Commissioners, February 26, 2023 will be known as Victoria Casey-McDonald Day in Jackson County.

Recognizing the tireless efforts and invaluable contributions to Jackson County of the late Victoria Casey McDonald (1943-2014), both boards approved the proclamation at their regular session meetings this week. February 26th is the memorial date of her 80th birthday.

McDonald was a lifelong resident of Jackson County born in 1943 to Estus and
Derosette Casey in Peter’s Bluff, an African American community of Cullowhee. She was one of 10 siblings, including twin brother Victor Casey, and the mother of son, Creighton O. Casey, and daughter, Faustine (Tina) McDonald, and grandmother of grandson, Victor Crimmins.
Her daughter, Faustine, was presented with signed copies of the proclamation at the
town and county board meetings.

“Thank you to the town and county for acknowledging the work my mother has done throughout her 30 years teaching and her work in the community; whether it be softball, basketball or teaching, she impacted all facets of life.” said Tina McDonald. “She was an ordinary, extraordinary woman.”

“Classrooms, churches, libraries and communities throughout western North Carolina and several organizations and innumerable programs, such as the annual Martin Luther King National Holiday celebration, have all benefited enormously form Victoria’s leadership and participation,” stated the proclamation. “Victoria was a devoted educator, a pioneering champion for diversity, tenacious coach and advocate for area youth through her encouragement and efforts to create opportunities in the arts, athletics and cultural enrichment.”

For generations, children growing up in Jackson County knew McDonald as Mrs. McDonald or “Mrs. McD” and admired and respected her for the infinite knowledge and compassion she showed to students.

McDonald is the author of four published books that document the black experience in Appalachia and her work, in all its forms, has gained recognition from several groups and organizations including Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, the Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center and the Affrilichian Artist Project.

McDonald’s four books are “Just Over the Hill: Black Appalachians in Jackson County, Western North Carolina,” “African Americans of Jackson County: From Slavery to Integration a Pictorial History,” “Living in the Shadow of Slavery,” and “Under the Light of Darkness: Love and Marriage in the Antebellum South for Slaves.”

City Lights Book Store, located at 3 E. Jackson Street, Sylva, will also honor the 80th birthday of the late author Casey-McDonald with a memorable celebration special event on Saturday, February 25th at 3:00 p.m.

“Come celebrate her 80th birthday at City Lights on Saturday, we are celebrating not only her life but also what she impacted in other peoples’ lives and what she became today because of it,” said Tina. “We are truly celebrating everyone, not just her.”

Excerpts from “Just Over the Hill,” a book Casey-McDonald wrote in 2012, will be read during the celebration. In addition, speakers will also share memories of her as a mother, teacher, coach and pastor and the impact she had on their lives. “Just Over the Hill” was reprinted because requests for copies increased after McDonald’s death in 2014. The North Carolina Literary Review has selected the 2022 reissue of “Just Over the Hill” to be featured as part of its archived lesson plans, making her work accessible to teachers and classrooms everywhere.

A Jackson County native, McDonald was raised in Cullowhee and her family history can be traced back to slavery era in Jackson County. While employed with the telephone company, McDonald began her education by taking correspondence courses. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in elementary education from Western Carolina University. McDonald began her 20-year career as an educator at the Log Cabin School continuing to teach when it was consolidated with Qualla Elementary to form Smokey Mountain Elementary. In addition, she taught at Smoky Mountain High School and was a substitute teacher after her retirement.

“Just Over the Hill” tells the role blacks played in building the county. McDonald spent countless hours researching African Americans in Jackson County. She helped many African Americans in the county research their family genealogy. Her efforts have also been recognized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for her work helping to locate the gravesites of black Confederate soldiers.

Through the proclamation, the Sylva commissioners encourage all citizens of Jackson County and throughout western North Carolina to recognize the contributions of McDonald and vow to make their own lives more creative and fulfilling in the service of others.

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